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Psychosom Med. 1997 May-Jun;59(3):280-93.

Psychological sequelae of cancer diagnosis: a meta-analytical review of 58 studies after 1980.

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  • 1Department of Medical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



In a review of the literature from 1980 to 1994 on psychological and psychiatric problems in patients with cancer, the prevalence, severity, and the course of these problems (i.e., depression, anxiety, and general psychological distress) were studied with the help of meta-analyses and qualitative analyses. Apart from this, qualitative analyses were also applied with respect to other relevant variables.


A literature search in MEDLINE was conducted and cross-references of articles identified via MEDLINE. Meta-analysis was applied when possible.


There seemed to be a wide variation across studies in psychological and psychiatric problems. Meta-analysis showed no significant differences between cancer patients and the normal population with respect to anxiety and psychological distress. However, cancer patients seemed to be significantly more depressed than normals. Compared with psychiatric patients, cancer patients were significantly less depressed, anxious, or distressed. Compared with a sample of other medical patients, cancer patients showed significantly less anxiety. With respect to course, a significant decrease was found in the meta-analysis for anxiety, but not for depression. Further meta-analyses showed significant differences among groups of cancer patients with regard to tumor site, sex, age, design of the study, and year of publication. From the qualitative analyses, it seemed that medical, sociodemographic, and psychological variables were related inconsistently to psychological and psychiatric problems.


With the exception of depression, the amount of psychological and psychiatric problems in patients with cancer does not differ from the normal population. The amount of psychological and psychiatric problems is significantly less in cancer patients than in psychiatric patients. The amount of anxiety is significantly less in cancer patients than in other groups of medical patients with mixed diagnoses, whereas depression is not. Future studies should aim at exploring possible causes for the sometimes impressive differences in psychological or psychiatric problems among patients with cancer.

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